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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Yarnalls (and More) and Another Inn

The Conestoga Wagon, or Yarnall Tavern
In the previous post, we looked at the early history of the Yarnall family, their acquisition of land around the area now known as Brandywine Springs, and the opening of the Conestoga Wagon inn, often called the Yarnall Tavern. In this post we'll take the story forward, focusing on the end of the Conestoga Wagon and on another "Mystery Inn" that may have been a successor to it.

As noted in the first post, it's unclear exactly when the Conestoga Wagon first opened. My hypothesis was that Sarah Yarnall began keeping the inn soon after her husband Ephraim's death in 1793. New information has called that theory into question, quite possibly moving the date of the house and tavern significantly forward. This new idea will be dealt with more fully in another post to come.

Although there's uncertainty as to when the tavern began, Holton Yarnall's financial situation seems painfully clear. Not very long after taking control of the property south of Faulkland Road, Holton was deep in debt. According to C.A. Weslager in his book Brandywine Springs: The Rise and Fall of a Delaware Resort, by 1802 James Gibbons held a mortgage of 600 pounds on the property. The mortgage was transferred to James Robinson, a neighboring blacksmith, in 1807. Robinson in turn assigned the mortgage in 1818 to Jane Wilson, "a single woman of Wilmington". What Yarnall needed this money for originally is unclear. He may have assumed debts from his father, he may have amassed his own, or he may have needed funds to build or rebuild the home on his property.

Whenever Yarnall began keeping his tavern, by 1814 he was looking to sell it and the rest of his tract. He took out a newspaper ad then (it didn't sell) and again in 1816. Both ads referred to the property as "Yellow Springs" in reference to the mineral spring that would ultimately be its savior. The tract was 80 acres, containing a well finished stone house (the tavern) 33 feet square and two stories, a good frame barn, and other various outbuildings. Unfortunately there were again no takers, and the property was put up for sale in 1822 for at least the third time. This time Yarnall also offered to sell only a few acres (containing the springs and the tavern), if the purchaser did not wish to buy the farm (in the literal sense).

From the American Watchman, Sept. 11, 1816

The luckless Yarnall was again unable to find a buyer, and his time was just about up. In 1827 Jane Wilson died, and her executor (MCH native) Washington Rice was pushing for settlement of the debt. Rice went to court and won a $3200 settlement which Yarnall was unable to pay. In July the Yellow Springs property, including the Conestoga Wagon tavern, was sold for $2805 to a Wilmington businessman who was probably acting as a front for the group who wanted to build the Brandywine Springs resort hotel. And thus ended the Yarnall family's tenure as innkeepers in Mill Creek Hundred -- or so I thought until recently.

After the Wilmington investment group purchased the property, the old tavern was used as a gate house for the grand new hotel. Then and later it may have served as living quarters for one or more of the hotel's employees. I had always just assumed that the Yarnalls moved out of the area after the tavern's sale. This, as it turns out, was far from the truth. In fact, it seems that they not only stayed very close, they stayed in the same line of business!

From the 1849 Rea and Price Map

The evidence had been staring me in the face, but I always overlooked it. On the 1849 map, on the northeast corner of Newport Gap Pike and Faulkland Road, there lies an inn and a store. As it turns out, this lot happens to be a four acre plot given to Ann Yarnall in 1829 as a widow's dower, after the death of her husband Holton Yarnall. A DelDOT report contains a chart (page 22 of the PDF) showing Ephraim Yarnall (Ann's son, Holton's brother) and Ann Yarnall as innkeepers in 1834 and 1843, respectively. This is obviously after the sale of the Conestoga Wagon, so they must have been operating the tavern/inn on that northeast corner! Nowhere have I ever seen another reference to this inn -- not even its name. The 1850 Census (seen below) does show us who was running the inn and the store at that time, and who owned them.

1850 Census

The Innkeeper was Jacob Foulk, one of the sons of William Foulk, the former owner of the mill down the hill that would become the Fell Spice Mill. Jacob had married Edith Yarnall, daughter of Holton and Ann, in 1823. Although Jacob's occupation is listed as Innkeeper, if you look closely you'll see that it was Ann (Yarnold instead of Yarnall) who actually owned the property. The Storekeeper was a man named William Cullins, about whom I've not found any other data. He seems to have lived in the same household as Jacob and Ann, so the assumption is that he resided in the inn and that Ann owned the store as well. The 1849 map shows two buildings, so it looks like the store was a separate structure next to the inn.

As little information as we have about the earlier Conestoga Wagon, we have even less abut this later inn. There are no pictures of it I'm aware of. We don't even know what its name was. The evidence seems to indicate it was in operation as early as 1834 and as late as 1849, but was gone by 1868. In fact, the Foulks seem to be gone from the area by 1860, and the property was sold to Irish farmer Charles Ferguson, who also owned a farm just north on the Pike. The house eventually went to his widow, Margaret Ferguson, who may have owned it until her death in 1902. An old house was present on the corner until about 20 or 30 years ago, but I'm not sure if it was the same one used by the Foulks/Yarnalls or if it was a later construction.

Even though we know little about this second tavern, its existence does make sense when you think about it. Although the grand Brandywine Springs Hotel was in some ways the successor to the Yarnall Tavern, it catered to a very different clientele. The guests at "The Springs" were wealthy out-of-towners who came for weeks or months at a time, quite different from the hard-driving teamsters who parked their wagons and themselves at Holton Yarnall's establishment. By the 1830's railroads and canals were beginning to divert some of the traffic that used to ply the turnpikes, but there still could have been the need for an inn along the road. They certainly never got rich from it, but Ephraim Yarnall, Jacob Foulk, and family still would have provided a needed meal and bed to many a man who could have only dreamt of staying at the big, elegant resort. Yarnall and Foulk were more of a Motel 6 to Brandywine Springs' Club Med on the Red Clay.

I very much hope to eventually come into some more information about this second tavern, but for now there are more questions than answers. One question about the original Conestoga Wagon Tavern may be close to being answered, however. More about that in the next post...


  1. Someone this year wondered if Peggy (Marguerite F)Yarnall might be related to the Mill Creek Hundred Yarnall family. Yes Peggy's great-great grandfather is Ephraim Yarnall son of Holton and Ann Buffington Yarnall. His wife was Elizabeth Springer Yarnall. Peggy and I went through school together starting in Kindergarten at David W. Harlan Elementary and Junior and Senior High at P. S. Dupont High School. Graduated in 1952.
    Harry A Talley

    1. Thanks for the info, Harry. I like seeing the old family names still in the area. Yours, too.